You never know what to expect when you book a few nights with a hostel in another country, but sometimes, the surprise is worth the anxiety you may feel.

In early July 2013, I packed my belongings in Cortona, Italy, preparing for travel. My desired destination was Brussels, Belgium, and I was feeling uneasy about the room Selma Neel, my girlfriend, and I booked. The reviews online were not the best. Some were poor, and some were great. But nonetheless, I was excited because traveling is always an exciting and unpredictable adventure, and I cherish every moment I am in a new country and culture.

We boarded and rode our Ryanair flight, which was cheap and quick, to Brussels. After hopping off a bus, which drove us into the city from the airport, Selma and I walked through the streets of Brussels. Looking for Hotel Francois at Rue Borgval, 15, Brussels, Belgium proved more difficult than what we had hoped for, but after finding a main street, we quickly followed the directions we had previously written down.

As we turned one last corner and walked down the street where the hostel was located, we passed by a tall man, who was walking in the other direction and wearing only a white undershirt.

We found the small entrance to the hostel rooms, and waited at the first door. No one initially opened the door for us, and so, we waited until the landlord returned. After waiting for a minute or two, the same tall man we passed on our way to the hostel walked up to the door with a soda in hand. Apologizing for his quick fleet for a drink, he asked if we were the ones arriving and invited us inside. He was very helpful, and we were given our keys for the stay. As we made our way up the stairs, an odor of tobacco smoke filled the first few floors, but when we reached the top, our destination, the odor had vanished, and we hoped the room would make the booking worth the investment.

It was.

Expecting the worst, we opened the door to our room, and it was clean and fresh. A small sink and a small shower were located in one corner of the room to our left, and they were visible to us because there was no door or curtain separating the two spaces. As we opened the window and looked out into the street from which we had walked on earlier, we could hear people mingling in bars close by. The inner-city life culture was welcoming and refreshing after spending a week in the Tuscan region of Italy.

We quickly sat down on the mattress and familiarized ourselves with the room. I twisted on a stereo mic and Daft Punk’s latest album, Random Access Memories, played through the small speaker. We assumed the music was coming from our landlord’s end of the speaker system, and we found the tunes and the room to be pleasant, humorous and exciting.

Hostels are a fun way to interact with interesting individuals and live in rooms at places you normally would not have access to. Even if the sleeping arrangements do not meet your standards, the unique experiences you will have and the subsequent stories you can tell from the encounter and stay will certainly be worth the trip and booking in any hostel.

Have you stayed in a hostel before? What is the best hostel you have booked? Share your thoughts in the comments below.